Libby Edwards-Allbaugh, co-founder and co-owner of The Tax Ladies, thinks being a woman in a male-dominated industry is a strength. “This is such a traditional, conservative field,” she says. “The people in accountancy often lack people skills; I felt I could set a more personable tone.”
The Tax Ladies, which she and partner Treat Jackson launched in 2011, specializes in small business clients. While larger businesses can hire staff or engage accounting firms, “there’s a real void for small businesses, start-ups, and nonprofits,” Edwards-Allbaugh says. The Tax Ladies’ tagline: “Your small business is big business to us!”
With the triple challenge of being a SWaM (Small, Woman-owned, and Minority- owned) business, Edwards-Allbaugh says “we spend so much time building relationships to get our name out.” She has taught courses at PVCC, works with the Community Investment Collaborative and SCORE, and participates in the Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce, in addition to being active in Black Women of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Area. In January, Edwards-Allbaugh was chosen as one of four Community Fellows-in-Residence by UVA’s Equity Center to support her project to expand BWCMA’s Sister-nomic$ financial literacy program to include elementary, middle, and high school girls.
The Tax Ladies’ four full-time employees provide more than just tax help–services include accounting, budgeting, systems development, and/or back-office support. For each client, the firm develops a customized plan and charges by retainer (ranging from $69 to $800/month). The usual hourly billing model can discourage small businesses from asking for help, Edwards-Allbaugh says, while a retainer “encourages continual dialogue” and makes The Tax Ladies a true business partner.
Edwards-Allbaugh thinks the City of Charlottesville is “doing a phenomenal job–close to as much as possible” in supporting minority businesses. While The Tax Ladies is based in Albemarle County, the city’s programs “often help with infrastructure and supplies, things that are good for my clients’ businesses.”
As a Tax Lady (and a small business owner), Edwards-Allbaugh has valuable advice for entrepreneurs:
1. “Treat your business like a business.” Have a separate business checking account or credit card– commingling personal and business finances is a common mistake, and can be disastrous.
2. “Get your processes in place. You don’t have to hire a person, but you should consult with someone with expertise to find out what you don’t know.” Skimping on financial advice is also common, and usually ends up costing you money.
3. “You should be able to tell at any time, here’s what I’m making and here’s what I’m spending.” As for 2020 tax advice, Edwards-Allbaugh doesn’t expect big changes this year, given the extensive tax overhaul in 2019. But business taxes are complex, and as in every other arena, information is power. “People cheat themselves more than they cheat the government,” she says.